Don’t Pay Good Money for That!

Making preserved lemons.

A few months ago, I decided to take the plunge: I was going to make a delicious-sounding chicken with olives and preserved lemons. Except, natch, not a preserved lemon (or fresh lemon, for that matter) to be found in the house.

Or at my local grocery store.

At this point, I had choices. I could devote my life to finding a nearby store that stocked preserved lemons, or I could accept the inevitable. I did the latter, ordering a small jar of preserved lemons from Amazon. Sure, it was pricey, but I was convinced the lemons were worth it.

And they tasted better than I imagined. A bit tart, a lot salty, purely yummy. But that price rankled. Ain’t no way I was going to spend over ten dollars for two lemons floating in brine again. I’d make it myself. This lead me down the path of thinking about other foods that we shouldn’t pay good money for.

I think this is especially important for those of us who are gluten free. Buying specialty items is already expensive, but it’s a lot easier on our wallets if we save money elsewhere. Here are a few items I think are worth the time to make at home — and doing so is so much cheaper than buying a bottle or jar of the same thing!

  • Preserved Lemons: Here’s how you make preserved lemons. Cut them as if you’re quartering them, but leave the sections intact at the stem end. Pack the lemons with salt (I use kosher). Put lemons in a jar, crush lightly to extract the juice (the salt is helping here), and cover with more fresh juice if necessary. Set aside for a month. Voila! Preserved lemons. Bonus: they keep forever in the refrigerator after you open the jar.
  • Chicken or Vegetable Stock: In the course of a week, I go through a lot of stock. Years ago, I realized just how much I was paying for something that cost me almost nothing to make. Since then, I make a batch of chicken stock every month or less. So easy, so fast, so inexpensive.
  • Salad Dressing: I’ve discussed making your own salad dressing before, and with good reason. My regular dressing repertoire includes various vinaigrettes (keep a range of vinegars on hand, from very light to intense, to suit your mood), ranch and blue cheese dressings, a killer Caesar dressing, and my summer favorite, Green Goddess.
  • Onion Dip: Okay, this is just a variation on a ranch dressing. The addition of deeply caramelized onions and a bit of seasoning makes it a party favorite.
  • Seasoned Salts: You can use citrus zest, herbs, spices, anything to season salts. The seasoning should be dry and finely ground. Use approximately 1 teaspoon of seasoning per quarter cup of salt, and mix the ingredients well either by hand, in your coffee grinder (just enough to mix, not enough to pulverize the salt), or in a mortar. Adjust flavor balance to suit your taste. My favorite mix is 1/4 salt, 1 teaspoon lime zest, and a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes. Try this on grilled corn!
  • Spice Mixes: Making your spice mixes is simple and fun. They’re great for seasoning meats, veggies, and soups. Over time, you can develop your own secret recipes. Since I cook a lot of Indian dishes, I like to have homemade garam masala on hand. I lightly toast cardamom, cumin, coriander, black pepper, and cloves, then grind them a bit of ground cinnamon and nutmeg (if you have whole nutmeg, use a microplane to get fine bits of flavor).

What are your favorite items to make instead of buy? Share them here.

  • Here’s an article from Epicurious that expands on the above. The author includes guacamole (seriously easy to make!), salsa, hummus, and even kimchi in her “make it at home” list.

Tip of the Week

For grinding spices and other ingredients, keep an old, clean coffee grinder on hand. Or use your current coffee grinder, cleaning it thoroughly both before and after use.

Meal of the Week

There are, by my count, a zillion ways to make this dish, but all are essentially braised chicken with preserved lemons and green olives…and a fantastic sauce to be soaked up by gluten-free pasta or rice. Modify the flavors as your mood strikes, adjusting spices to evoke dishes from Morocco to Spain.


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